So you’ve fallen for a nice, little 15th-century fixer-upper castle on the west coast of Ireland, but haven’t got the foggiest notion about how to spruce the joint up. Ralph Christians, chairman and founder of Magma Films, could offer some helpful tips.
German-born Christians, 52, found himself in just that position in the early ’90s. The former political journalist, just recently divorced, had been splitting his time traveling between Magma’s Hamburg and Reykjavik offices, and Ireland, where he was on the lookout for film locations.
Favorable Irish tax incentives and a fledgling production scene in Galway convinced Christians to set up an office in the one-time Renaissance boomtown in 1993. And it was then that he stumbled upon a ‘heap of red stones’ about three miles outside of the city’s center – the skeletal remains of Killeen castle. Christians took up residence in his heap and set about rebuilding it, stone by stone.
‘It was a hell of a lot of work,’ he says. ‘It’s something you can only do once in your life because, much like starting a new company, you need a certain naiveté. You wouldn’t do it again if you knew what it would cost and involve.’
Christians’s first challenge was drying the place out, because the porous, two-foot thick limestone walls had collected five centuries worth of Irish dampness – in fact, his front hallway made a lovely swimming pool for the first two or three years. But Christians says his rather humid home didn’t bother him. ‘I don’t know whether it was the divorce or all the beer I was drinking, but I never found it very cold or dark,’ he jokes.
It took seven years to get the walls to stop weeping. During that time, Christians had re-married and began modernizing the castle for his new family. Again the walls proved troublesome. Their thickness, coupled with the vaulted ceilings, made drilling holes for electrical wire and plumbing nearly impossible. He says he did find one hole that was perfect for running cable and later discovered the castle’s original owners used it for dumping hot oil on messengers who delivered bad news. (Yes, they really did try to kill the messenger back then.)
When not at the castle, Christians oversees the 20-year-old company’s 25 employees and a slate of projects at Magma’s Galway office – it became company headquarters in 1996. Magma currently has six animated shows in production, including 13 eps of Lilly the Witch for the BBC and a second 26-ep series of Norman Normal for France 3, Super RTL and EMTV.
Christians’s now warm, dry and wired home remains a work in progress, too. He’s found a group of like-minded castle owners in the area that counts Hollywood stars Patrick Bergin and Jeremy Irons as members; they get together regularly to share reno and upgrade tips.